A group of reformers that includes judges, prosecutors, public defenders and treatment providers has begun a series of meetings to identify ways to introduce justice reforms tailored to the needs of rural America.
The Rural Justice Collaborative (RJC), funded by the State Justice Institute, was launched last October in response to research that shows “rural Americans are more likely than urban residents to be jailed, [suffer] overdoses, and lack access to substance abuse and mental health and public health services,” according to a recent statement.
The first meetings opened last Friday in Williamsburg, Va. to identify “innovation sites” with proven rural justice programs that are increasing access to justice, improving family outcomes, and reducing reoffending rates.
According to the release, priority areas include:
- Increasing access to behavioral health treatment;
- Reducing victimization;
- Facilitating employment/educational opportunities for justice involved individuals;
- Eliminating barriers of access to justice;
- Reducing incarceration;
- Facilitating reentry; and
- Reducing the number of children in foster care due to substance use disorders
“We’re going to find the best of the best and develop a framework so other courts and communities can model them,” said Kristina Bryant, the National Center for State Courts RJC project director.
Once the RJC identifies the leading sites, the group will create educational materials and an online resource center. Innovation sites will also offer visits and regional conferences with in-person and virtual attendance options.
The RJC plans to provide a vast knowledge pool filled with actionable content which individual communities may not have the resources to compile on their own.
“These coaching resources will allow rural community leaders to quickly get up to speed on best practices and avoid missteps so they can launch their own successful initiatives,” said Bryant.
Jonathan Mattiello, director of the SJI, said, “The programs and methods developed from large courts are often not models for rural courts because they do not always account for the geographic barriers in rural areas, or resonate with key aspects of rural culture.”
The SJI was established by federal law in 1984 to award grants to improve the quality of justice in state courts, and foster innovative, efficient solutions to common issues faced by all courts. SJI is a non-profit corporation governed by an 11-member Board of Directors appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
Additional Reading: See resources under the TCR’s “Rural Injustice” page.